Optimal Daily Dairy Consumption Remains Elusive Despite Well-Established Health Benefits

New Research Reveals Opportunities To Improve Consumption In Advance Of National Dairy Month

Washington, DC, May 16, 2024 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Dairy foods and beverages are recommended as part of a healthy dietary pattern given their well-established benefits according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), yet nearly 90% of Americans do not consume the recommended three servings per day. As June’s National Dairy Month approaches, the International Food Information Council’s (IFIC) most recent consumer research, Exploring Fluid Milk & Dairy Food Consumption Patterns to Improve Diet Quality & Nutrition Equity, dives deep into dairy consumption trends and examines the perceptions, motivators, and barriers that may keep consumers from experiencing dairy’s benefits.

“While Americans acknowledge that dairy foods and beverages are affordable, accessible, and an essential part of a healthy diet, many are not fully experiencing dairy’s benefits. Given that dairy continues to be an under-consumed food group, we wanted to investigate potential consumption barriers, including those that may be uniquely attributable to race, ethnicity, and/or income level,” explained IFIC President & CEO Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, MS, RDN. “We seek to understand the many complex factors and layers that may affect how people, especially Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, think about dairy foods and beverages.”

Consumers Believe That Dairy Is An Essential Part In A Healthy Diet

One thing is clear: A solid majority of Americans (78%) believe that dairy is an essential part of a healthy and balanced diet. In addition, most consumers can identify the health benefits of consuming dairy products. The most recognized benefits are bone health (90%) and dental health (79%). Lesser-known health benefits include the promotion of a healthy immune system (65%), heart health (54%), and maintaining healthy blood pressure (51%).

Taste Is A Top Motivator for Dairy Consumption

Consumers overwhelmingly rank taste as the main factor for purchasing cheese, yogurt, and milk. Behind taste, being a good source of protein also ranked high. Beyond a good source of protein, most consumers reported that dairy contains calcium (86%) and vitamin D (74%). Affordability, bone and dental health, digestive health—especially when it comes to yogurt—habit, and household demand are also noteworthy motivators.

When it comes to the frequency of consuming dairy products, cheese reigns supreme: 90% of Americans report eating cheese at least once a week. Cheese is followed by butter (85%), milk (75%), and then yogurt (60%). Only 21% of survey takers reported consuming lactose-free milk at least once a week.

Lactose-Free Dairy Foods & Beverages Provide Opportunities To Increase Dairy Consumption

“While many Americans do not consume the recommended servings each day, dairy intake is lowest among Black people,” said Tamika Sims, PhD, IFIC Senior Director of Food Technology Communications and lead on the latest IFIC research. “BIPOC subpopulations often cite a high prevalence of lactose intolerance. Research has shown that many people in these racial or ethnic groups perceive that they are lactose intolerant and thus avoid dairy products,” Sims said.

It is well-documented that Non-White populations experience lactose intolerance at a disproportionately higher rate than Non-Hispanic White people. In this IFIC research, 31% of Latino, 30% Black and 30% of Asian or Pacific Islander populations reported being lactose intolerant or having a dairy allergy or sensitivity, compared with just 19% of Non-Hispanic White people.

Surprisingly, considering these self-reported rates of lactose intolerance, more than two in three Americans report they have never consumed lactose-free milk (64%), lactose-free flavored milk (76%), or other lactose-free dairy products other than milk (68%). Specifically, more than half of Latino, Black, and Asian/Pacific Islander people in this study reported that they have never consumed lactose-free milk or lactose-free dairy products. When looking at SNAP eligibility, more SNAP-eligible survey takers (70%) report that they have never consumed lactose-free milk compared with survey takers who are Not SNAP-eligible (63%). When looking across generations, significantly more Boomers (81%) and Gen X (66%) have never consumed lactose-free milk compared with Millennials (52%) and Gen Z (48%). In fact, lactose-free dairy products are among the least consumed dairy foods and beverages across all races, ethnicities, ages, genders, and income ranges.

“The prevalence of lactose intolerance, in combination with the low levels of lactose-free dairy product consumption in BIPOC subpopulations, indicates an opportunity for education about how lactose-free dairy foods and beverages can provide the nutritional benefits of dairy—protein, calcium, other vitamins and minerals—without gastroenterological issues or discomfort,” said Sims.

Potential “Passive Avoidance” Adds To Consumption Complexity, Culture & Religion Not So Much

Overall, any increases observed in dairy consumption have been driven primarily by cheese and yogurt while fluid milk consumption is the dairy product that has steadily decreased. This IFIC research reveals that 28% of Americans report decreasing their milk consumption over the past ten years. Specifically, women, younger generations, BIPOC populations, and households that are Not SNAP-eligible report drinking less milk over the past decade.

Still, IFIC research reveals that each dairy food or beverage appears to have a unique barrier. For example, the most common obstacle for consuming milk was “it reaches its expiration date before consumption” (19%); for yogurt it was “disliking the taste” (19%); and for cheese it was “limiting saturated fat intake” (19%). Interestingly, 37% of consumers cited “none of the above” when asked why they avoid dairy foods and beverages.

“We found a group of consumers—we call them ‘passive avoiders’ — who did not point to a specific reason for why they do not consume dairy more often,” Sims explained. “When asked which barriers they encounter for not consuming dairy more often, many reasons were cited, yet no definitive single barrier emerged.” The listed hurdles included convenience, healthfulness, price, shelf-life, and taste, along with potential concerns such as animal welfare and environmental impact.

“In addition to the prevalence of lactose intolerance, we hypothesized that religious and/or cultural practices within ethnic groups, among other factors, could potentially impact dietary choices, including dairy avoidance,” Sims said. “However, we found that religion or culture promoted or had no impact on dairy consumption.” Specifically, 31% said that their cultural or religious upbringing encouraged dairy consumption and nearly half of the survey takers (45%) said that dairy consumption was neither encouraged nor discouraged as part of their cultural or religious upbringing.

Education Opportunities To Improve Diet Quality & Nutrition Equity

Results from this IFIC consumer research can assist in developing education and messaging about the health benefits of dairy consumption and lactose-free dairy foods and beverages to effectively reach BIPOC consumers, as well as the broader public.

“While dairy is a chronically under-consumed food group among many Americans, BIPOC and SNAP-eligible households may benefit most from hearing more about the health benefits associated with consistent dairy consumption. Education and outreach efforts tailored to increase awareness and availability of lactose-free dairy foods and beverages, in addition to emphasizing dairy's benefits beyond bone health, present new opportunities,” Reinhardt Kapsak said. She added, “Increased dairy consumption among all populations can positively contribute to improved diet quality and nutrition equity — availability, accessibility, and affordability — goals that support enhanced health for all Americans.”

Read the full research report here

Research Methodology

Data was collected from November 17-28, 2023, via an online survey of 3,032 Americans ages 18 years to 80+ years. Fielding included quotas by race or ethnicity as well as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility, with an oversample on non-White and SNAP-eligible (i.e. low-income) populations. For this International Food Information Council (IFIC) study respondents were considered “SNAP-eligible” based on the self-reported household size and total household income, which is how the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) calculates SNAP eligibility.

The results were weighted to be reflective of the American population ages 18 years and older, as seen in the 2022 Current Population Survey (which is defined by the U.S. Census Bureau of Labor Statistics). Specifically, results were weighted by age, gender, and region, as well as income, and race/ethnicity.

All data comparisons cited in this release are statistically significant with at least a 95% confidence interval.

Support for this consumer research project was provided to IFIC through an unrestricted grant from the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF).  


The International Food Information Council (IFIC) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization with a mission to effectively communicate science-based information about food safety, nutrition, and sustainable food systems, serving the public good. To fulfill this mission and demonstrate its thought leadership in action, IFIC: 1) delivers best-in-class research and consumer insights to inform food, nutrition, and health stakeholders; 2) promotes science communications to positively impact consumer behavior and public health; and 3) convenes critical thought leaders to advance the food systems dialogue and science-based decision-making. For more information, visit https://ific.org and our resource hub http://foodinsight.org; Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and X (formerly known as Twitter) and sign up for our newsletter here.


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